Are you trying to build up your homesteading skills? If so, then making your own soap should be added to the list of essential skills that every homesteader should know. Thankfully, making your own soap that is not only a skill of self sufficiently, but it is also good for you! It’s free of chemicals, and can be formulated with your own special requirements in mind.
For many of us, we may think that making our own soap is too hard or time-consuming. Yet, if you are someone who likes following a recipe and takes pleasure in cooking, then you will find that soap making is a lot easier than you think.
Whether you’re wanting to take up a new hobby or you just want to improve your homesteading skills, soap making is an extremely enjoyable practice. Plus, as we’ll soon discover, it has a lot of benefits too!
Today, we’ll explore basic ingredients, tools of the trade, and how to get started in the rewarding craft of soap making.
The Rich Tradition of Soap Making
The manufacture of soap or sapo (Latin), has been at the heart of civilization for thousands of years. Sumerian priests would use soap for ceremonial purposes. Early healers would use it to cure skin conditions and prevent disease. Mesopotamian sheep farmers would use it in the production of textiles.
From the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans to the Germans and Gauls, soap making has remained relatively the same. The basic formula involved a concoction of wood ash, animal fat or plant oil, and water. Dyes, fragrances, and abrasives were also often added to give the soap various aesthetic properties.
Today, we too, can use naturally occurring elements within our natural sphere to make this valuable household commodity.
Why Making Your Own Soap Is Important
In our modern world, we are surrounded by man-made chemicals and toxic additives that can damage the health of our skin over time.
Additionally, hormone-disrupting preservatives like phthalates, parabens, and triclosan can cause cancer, disrupt the body’s natural functions, cause infertility, lead to estrogen dominance, cause a myriad of health issues, and pollute aquatic ecosystems.
Learning traditional skills and making your own soap enables you to take your power back. You get to be in charge of your hygiene. Best of all, you can decide what goes into the manufacture of your soap.
If you have sensitive skin, you can make your soap hypoallergenic. If you want to add essential oils and other medicinal compounds to your soap, you can employ an arsenal of plant botanicals to nourish your skin.
As an added bonus, you are more self-reliant and resilient in an uncertain world. As inflation skyrockets, you can make affordable soap products for your family and friends that are of the best quality.
The Chemistry and Art of Soap Making
Soap making involves precise proportions of fat, water-based liquid, and a caustic agent. Your fat base can include plant oils or animal-derived sources. Liquids can include water, seawater, beer, milk, and the like. For your caustic agent, you can use either lye (sodium hydroxide) for hard soap or potash (potassium hydroxide) for liquid soap.
Lye, also known as caustic soda, is never mixed straight into your soap batch. It must first be diluted and dissolved in a water-based liquid. When lye is mixed with water or your preferred liquid, it causes an exothermic reaction and heats up.
In the next step, when you mix lye water with fat, it starts to emulsify and the saponification process commences. This is the process where your mixture will thicken and become soap. You know that the batch has achieved this process once trace is achieved.
Trace is a term that describes soap when it reaches the consistency of thin pancake batter. When you drizzle a line of soap in your batch, it will sit on top for a moment, before sinking back into the mixture. Similarly, if you drag your mixing spoon through the mixture, it will leave a temporary line, before blending back together.
Cold Process Versus Hot Process
Traditional soap making involves the hot process method. On a stovetop, fat is fully melted down and blended. Lye water is then carefully mixed in. The mixing process continues until saponification is achieved. The mixture should not rise above 180 degrees Fahrenheit but should remain between 120 – 130 degrees.
The mixture is allowed to simmer in the pot until the batch neutralizes and the PH falls to a safe level. Using phenolphthalein is the most reliable way to test the soap’s alkalinity. The neutralized soap will have the clumpy and lumpy consistency of mashed potatoes since much of the water has evaporated. From there, it can be pressed into a mold. The benefit of hot process soap is that it will be ready to use right away. As soon as it cools and firms up, it can be cut into bars.
The modern cold process method is the most popular one used today. This may be because many people feel that it is safer. It involves melting down fats and then allowing them to cool down to between 90 – 110 degrees Fahrenheit, before mixing in the room temperature lye mixture. Many feel that the fat mixture and lye mixture should be within 10 degrees of one another before combining.
After trace is achieved and all the ingredients are thoroughly blended, the resulting soap mixture is poured into a soap mold to begin the curing process. Since the ingredients are mixed at cooler temperatures, cold process soap making is the best method when using essential oils.
Making cold process soap is also great for using individual decorative molds like this one. This is because the cold process creates a smoother, more fluid consistency, which is ideal for picking up the delicate textures and features of complex molds.
After about 24 hours, cold process soaps can be removed from their molds and will continue to cure. The cure time will range from 4 – 6 weeks, depending upon the fats used. Some soaps can take up to a year to cure. The curing process removes all alkalinity and makes the soap safe to use.
For those that do not want to handle lye, there is the option of purchasing melt-and-pour soaps. Melt-and-pour soaps are pre-made soap blocks that are ready to use. In this way, you can add “extras” and customize your soap without any danger. This kind of soap requires no cure time.
Common Main Ingredients
Nearly any kind of natural fat can be used and each one has its own special properties. Here are a few popular varieties. Various water-based liquids can also be used in your batch.
Apricot Oil – Has moisturizing properties and is great for sensitive skin.
Avocado Oil – Is rich in vitamins and amino acids. Plus, it moisturizes and nourishes the skin.
Castor Oil – A great oil for creating lather.
Cocoa Butter – It aids as a soap hardener and softens the skin.
Coconut Oil – As a high-quality fat with a variety of health benefits, coconut oil also possesses antimicrobial properties. It has a rich lather, provides deep cleaning, but can be drying.
Evening Primrose Oil – Is a natural anti-inflammatory and can help alleviate some skin conditions.
Hemp Oil – Is a gentle cleanser and reduces inflammation.
Lard – Also known as pork fat, lard creates a creamy lather that conditions skin.
Laurel Berry Oil – Has natural muscle relaxant properties which can be good for arthritis.
Olive Oil – Produces a mild soap that moisturizes and is loaded with antioxidants.
Mango Butter – Helps with hardness and has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects.
Milk – Is a natural exfoliant and nourishes the skin
Seawater – Contains a high concentration of mineral salts and has healing properties for the skin.
Shea Butter – Has anti-inflammatory properties with a creamy lather.
Sweet Almond Oil – Adds moisturizing properties and a medium lather.
Tallow – Is derived from beef fat. This ingredient is what most soaps were made from in the past. It produces a rich and creamy lather. It also helps soap harden and last longer.
Water – Chilled and distilled water is best.
Add these extra ingredients in the early trace stage of the soap process to preserve their qualities. We want the unique properties of these natural additives to remain intact. If added in earlier stages of the process, these elements may be burned up or lose their valuable attributes. There are hundreds of “extras” that can be added to your soap and the ones listed are but a few.
Alcohol – This ingredient can be used in conjunction with sugar and glycerin to produce transparent glycerin soaps.
Aloe – The aloe plant (aloe barbadensis) offers amazing benefits for the skin. Aloe is a natural antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and it heals damaged skin. It can be used to heal sunburns, acne, bug bites, cuts, and scrapes. Aloe is also an amazing moisturizer.
Coffee Grounds – Adding coffee grounds to your soap brings a wonderful aroma and adds a gentle exfoliating effect. Plus the caffeine in coffee perks up the skin.
Essential Oils – Nature provides power-packed botanical therapies in the form of plant extracts. When we add essential oils to our soaps, we are incorporating the healing power of plant compounds into our product. Essential oils can heal a myriad of health issues, often with miraculous results.
Flowers – Lavender, rose petals, and the like can be added to soaps for aesthetic purposes.
Glycerin – It is a natural byproduct of soapmaking. It is used along with alcohol and sugar to make glycerin soap. Glycerin is prized for its transparent appearance and moisturizing qualities. Is also a gentle cleanser and locks moisture into your skin.
Herbs – Oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme have healing and medicinal properties.
Honey – Honey has antimicrobial, anti-aging, and moisturizing properties. Plus, it is a natural preservative.
Natural Dyes – These can be derived from common spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You can also draw color from foods like red cabbage and beets.
Sugar – Can be used as a mild abrasive or it can be added with alcohol to make glycerin soap.
Vitamin E – This oil is a great skin conditioner and adds moisturizing properties to your soap.
Soap Making Equipment and Tools
It should be noted that tin and aluminum should NOT be used in the manufacture of soap. Utensils and bowls made of these materials will corrode. Also, do not use plastic, as it melts at medium to high temperatures. Glass too, can break. Instead, use stainless steel containers.
Include the following:
- Dedicated stainless steel pots for soap making
- Utensils – These can be made of steel, sturdy wood, or silicon
- A kitchen scale for measuring ingredients
- Measuring Implements
- A traditional kitchen thermometer to determine the temperature of the soap
- A non-contact thermometer is also a great option
- Stick blender for mixing the soap batch
- Molds – Wooden, plastic, or silicon
- Protective Gear – to shield your arms, hands, and eyes
A Word About Safety
Lye is a caustic element that can burn and cause severe damage to the soft tissues of your body. Therefore, you want to protect your skin and eyes. Additionally, breathing in lye fumes can damage your lungs. Fumes can be created when lye is added to room temperature water. The lye mixture can rise up to 200 degrees and create fumes. Therefore, it’s important to make your soap in a well-ventilated area. Doing so outside is even better.
Cookware can also be damaged by lye. Be sure to only use pots and utensils mentioned in the Soap Making Equipment and Tools section.
When making your lye solution, remember to place your chilled distilled water in the container first. Then carefully add your lye. Slowly stir it in to evenly disperse it and prevent heat pockets that can shoot up like a volcano. As lye comes into contact with water, an exothermic reaction occurs, and heat will be created. Additionally, you want your lye mixture to cool down before adding it to the prepared fat.
It’s a good idea to clean up with vinegar, to neutralize any stray lye powder or droplets. If lye gets onto your skin or into your eyes, you will want to flush with water only, as vinegar and lye react and create more heat.
Use these tools and tips to stay safe:
- Wear goggles or a face shield to protect your eyes. Lye water, for instance, can blind a person.
- Wear gloves and long sleeves to protect your skin.
- Keep your lye locked away in a cabinet where children and pets cannot accidentally come into contact with it.
You will want to do your soapmaking in a place where you can focus and be free from distractions. Soap making is not the kind of hobby that one does in a busy kitchen with kids running around. It is best to do this hobby when you have the house to yourself. For instance, when the kids are in school.
Soap making enables you to express yourself creatively while providing a functional household necessity at the same time. You gain a valuable homemaking skill and can take pride in your workmanship.
Plus, you get to decide the look, feel, smell, and special properties of your soap. As a result, you will have peace of mind knowing that you are using the best and safest ingredients.
Getting to make the things you use and love is a lot of fun. To make things even more exciting, try inviting your friends over to do a soap party. Everyone learns a new skill and goes home with their own soap!
Thanks for joining us for this lesson and don’t be surprised if the wonderful hobby of soap making becomes your new addiction. Let us know your experience in the comments below.
To your health and well-being!
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